Enact Mine Pension Program Safeguard

Congressional action earlier this year to safeguard health insurance on which thousands of retired miners and their families depend was an important victory. But it was far from a giveaway — and it also was only part of the equation.

Both health insurance and pensions for mine retirees were part of a commitment by the federal government, many years ago. Both programs were sustained very well for decades through fees paid into them by mining companies, based on tonnage of coal produced.

During the past few years, the amount of coal mined has plummeted, due in large measure to government action. White House policy during former President Barack Obama’s administration has been called a “war on coal” — and, in terms of its effect on the industry, it has been devastating.

Lower revenue from coal tonnage would have made the health insurance program insolvent, had Congress not stepped in with a bailout.

The same fate awaits the pension program, unless lawmakers act.

Fortunately, a bipartisan move in that direction is afoot. This week, U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., along with Reps. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and Peter Welch, D-Vt., introduced the American Miners Pension Act, intended to rescue the retirement program.

If enacted, the AMP bill would use a combination of excess funds from the Abandoned Land Program, along with loans from the Treasury Department, to keep the pension program afloat.

More than 100,000 active and retired miners are affected by the bill. More than one-fourth of them are in West Virginia.

Congress should approve the AMP bill and President Donald Trump should sign it into law. Miners and their families, who kept the lights on in America for many years, should not be left out in the cold.